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Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011

The Upsetter

The world according to Lee 'Scratch' Perry

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Lee “Scratch” Perry was a crucial figure in the transition from ska to reggae. A mentor to Bob Marley, Perry became the crazy foster uncle to The Clash and the go-to producer for mediocre British pop stars hoping to catch fire. Perry is the subject of a fascinating low-budget documentary, The Upsetter. Narrated by Benicio Del Toro and stitched together from archival pieces of this and that, the interest lies in footage of Perry surfing whatever wave of ideas streams from his consciousness.

Perry's best-known song, “Police and Thieves,” was a sweet, soulful Jamaican hit by Junior Murvin covered in a staccato rendition by The Clash. Most of Perry's own recordings are wonderfully bizarre explorations of wordplay and the reverberant possibilities of the recording studio. It's not music the Jamaica Tourist Board would use in a TV advertising campaign or meant to flatter poolside tourists on a dreadlock holiday.

For many of The Upsetter's interviews, Perry, resplendent in beads and a feathered headdress, juggles words and images in a psychedelic tapestry of Bible passages, Rasta rhymes and apocalyptic prophecy. His genius howls and a sly smile peers through the ganja smoke.

Opens Sept. 2 at the Times Cinema.